Why would your boss turn against you, and see you as an enemy rather than a friend? The answer is that some managers are easily spooked. They were operating in a fearful way even before you showed up. Often when a manager hires someone smart and capable, they are delighted with their new hire at first. The new hire’s outstanding performance makes the manager look good.
Why shouldn’t that condition last? It can’t last forever, because the fearful manager wants a capable employee who is also willing to stay way out of the limelight.
The minute you start to get positive reinforcement from other people in the organization — even if you’re just doing your job and seeking no recognition for it — your fearful manager may freak out.
They can’t handle the fact that other people — maybe even higher-up managers — are noticing and praising you. That’s more than a fearful manager can stand. You can shift overnight from your boss’s right-hand person to someone who looks like a mortal threat.
Imagine that your workplace is a Petri dish. Your fearful manager is a single-celled organism swimming around in the Petri dish. You can think of your fearful boss as an amoeba.
Amoebae don’t have the capacity to share a lot of sophisticated reactions. Everything that comes into their field of awareness looks like one of two things to the amoeba: either you’re predator, or prey.
Back when you were hired, you were prey. Your manager hired you and he or she could claim your accomplishments. You were under the manager’s thumb at the beginning, so your fearful boss wasn’t concerned about you.
As your flame grows in your new job, you may start to look less like prey and more like a scary predator to your manager. What fearful thoughts might be bouncing around in your manager’s head? They might see you as someone who threatens their job or their authority.
That’s when your fearful boss may turn against you — and waste no time sending you signals that you’re no longer his or her right-hand person!
Here are 10 signs your boss has turned against you, fairly or otherwise:
1. Your boss used to casually praise and acknowledge you when you did something right — now they don’t. You’re still hitting or surpassing your goals, but you’d never know it by your boss’s behavior!
2. Your manager used to check in with you and inquire excitedly about your projects — now that’s forgotten. Your boss walks right by your desk and doesn’t say a word.
3. Other managers make a point of telling you “You’re a great addition to our team.” Your boss gets a weird look on their face or leaves the room whenever somebody says something nice about your work.
4. Your co-workers ask you “What happened between you and the Frank, our manager? You used to spend at least an hour with Frank every couple of days. Now you’re out in the cold – what’s the story?”
5. Your manager shuts down your good ideas or tells you put them on hold. Just a month or two ago when your boss heard these ideas for the first time, the boss was all over them. Not now!
6. Your boss doesn’t want you to communicate with anyone outside the department. Your manager uses email to communicate with you now, when in the past he or she would seek you out during the day.
7. Your email messages, Post-It notes and other communications with your boss are ignored.
8. Your manager has begun picking at you over tiny details that don’t even matter. All of a sudden, you can’t seem to do anything right in your boss’s eyes.
9. Your manager has stopped talking about their plans for you. They’ve stopped brainstorming with you about the future, and now you’re totally in the dark about what your future at this employer might look like.
10. Your collaborative relationship with your boss was a high point of your job — now that you’ve been cast out into the darkness, you’re not sure this is the right job for you anymore.
What can you do when your manager shuts you out and puts you down? You can ask your boss forthrightly what you did to offend him or her, but don’t expect an honest answer. If your boss could talk frankly about what’s bugging them, they would have done it already.
In thirty-plus years as an HR leader I have never heard a manager say “John does a great job, but sometimes he does such a great job that it makes me feel insecure about my own abilities.”
If there is no suitable role for you in the organization apart from the one you’ve got, this might be a great time to launch a stealth job search. You deserve to work for somebody who values you and what you bring. You only need one confident manager to help you get back on your path and start moving again!